Presented on Friday, October 4, 2019 in Cowles Hall in the Elmira College Campus as the Keynote Address for the "Mark Twain and Nature" Quarry Farm Symposium.
Many places lay claim to Samuel Clemens, including Hannibal, Angel's Camp, Jackass Hill, Buffalo, Hartford, Lake Saranac, Redding, and of course, Elmira. However, any Nevadan will tell you that Virginia City was Clemens's most important home, for it was there that he invented Mark Twain and perfected many of the literary techniques of hyperbolic and observational humor that would distinguish his inimitable style. While readers often associate Twain with the Mississippi, it was Clemens's contact with the sparse beauty of the western Great Basin Desert that helped to inspire and shape the emergence of Mark Twain. Bug if Nevada invented Mark Twain, there is a fascinating sense in which Mark Twain also invented Nevada. To a surprising degree, Nevadans today think of their high desert home landscape and their place-based regional culture in ways first explored and celebrated by Twain. As a high desert rat and a writer of creative nonfiction that is both environmental and comic, Mike Branch will consider Twain's legacy in Nevada, and reflect on Twain's influence on his own work. In particular, how did Twain lead the way in showing us that writing about the natural world could also be funny? As a part of his presentation, Mike will share several pieces from his recent books - Raising Wild (2016), Rants from the Hill (2017), and How to Cuss in Western (2018) - pieces that owe a great deal to Twain's legacy as a nature writer, a humor writer, and a one-time Nevadan. In recognition of the importance of place in understanding Twain's accomplishment, it is likely that substantial parts of Mike's talk will have been composed on his laptop while at the bar of the historic Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City (constructed in 1876).
Michael P. Branch is University Foundation Professor of English at University of Nevada, Reno. He is co-founder and past president of the Association of Literature and the Environment and series co-editor of the University of Virginia Press book series Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations of Ecocriticism (36 titles). He has published nine books and more than 200 articles, essays, and reviews, and has given 350 invited lectures and readings. Mick is the recipient of the Western Literature Award, and the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award. His four most recent books are Raising Wild (2016), 'The Best Read Naturalist': Nature Writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson (2017), Rants from the Hills (2017), and How to Cuss in Western (2018). Mike is currently working on a new book about jackalopes.